RIO DE JANEIRO — Chaunte Lowe can measure her adult life by the Olympics — all the highs, all the lows.
In 2004, her first time high-jumping at the Summer Games, she was midway through her college career at Georgia Tech and finished 13th in qualifying.
In 2008, the year she placed sixth at the Beijing Olympics, she was a first-time mother who had bought and lost her first home. Her world at times felt like it was crumbling. In 2012, she went to the London Games as a favorite to medal, a mother of two who again finished sixth.
At her fourth Olympics, Lowe, 32, has the same goal — to reach the medal podium — but with three children, more stability than ever and a plan to help other Olympians avoid some of the mistakes she made along the way.
There are 554 Olympians on the U.S. team. But just 10 are mothers, and Lowe and beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings are the only mothers of three here competing for the United States, both of them striking a delicate balance among work, family and sport.
The women’s high jump finals are Saturday, and Lowe finally could be in position to win her first Olympic medal. These Rio Games are different for Lowe, and she’s already planning for ways her post-Olympic life can help others.
She thinks back a decade when she became a professional track and field athlete, when she was young and invincible, when there was prize money to win and sponsors eager to help.
“I grew up in a situation where I really didn’t have a lot of money,” Lowe said. “Once I had an opportunity to get money in my hands, I spent it very quickly.”
She would go shopping weekly. She bought cars. She bought houses. “I thought the money would come forever,” she said. There was no financial planning, no rainy-day fund and certainly no survival plan for a time when track and field wasn’t paying the bills.
Lowe and her husband, Mario, started a family in 2007, and named their first daughter Jasmine. The baby changed their lives, but it also presented a harsh reality: It’s not always easy for a pregnant athlete or a new mother to remain competitive.
“In our sport, your job is your body,” she explained. “My body was being utilized to grow another person.”
Lowe was unable to earn the same money as an athlete, and her husband lost his job in the midst of the country’s economic crisis. He found out about the layoff the same day the couple closed on a house. Eventually, both of their homes — one was a rental property — went into foreclosure.
“It broke me as a person, losing everything I had worked so hard for,” she said.
Eight years later, her life is stabilized and her family has grown. She’s jumping some of her best marks and helping make ends meet by working as a day trader. After the Olympics, Lowe plans to resume accounting and financial management classes at DeVry University. She has been working with TD Ameritrade to put together a program that helps athletes explore their financial options and invest for life after the Olympics.
“So they’re not ending up bankrupt or going into foreclosure — really finding that financial literacy for them,” she said. “These things you think are important now, they’re not in the grand scheme of things.”
Even though she has been to three other Olympics, she feels especially focused entering Saturday’s competition. At each previous Summer Games, she was either a college student or still nursing a child. This time her life feels balanced, and she works her sport around her family. Back home in central Florida, Lowe will often wake up at 4:30 a.m. to squeeze in training before the kids wake up. After breakfast and seeing them off to school, she’s back to working on her jumps and fitness.
This year has served as a huge rebound season. At the track and field world championships a year ago in Beijing, Lowe failed to hit a single jump and didn’t even make the finals. She feels much better entering these Rio Games, after clearing 6 feet 7 inches at the U.S. Olympic trials last month in Eugene, Ore., the best mark in the world this year.
She explained that 2015 was one of her most difficult seasons. She relocated her family and moved her training base from Atlanta to Oviedo, Fla., because her 5-year-old daughter, Aurora, was showing signs of autism or Asperger’s syndrome and could receive specialized schooling in Florida. (Her daughter actually was moved out of a special-needs program last year and began kindergarten earlier this month.)
“That’s what you guys were seeing last year,” Lowe said. “It wasn’t that I was no longer able. It was that I put my children first.”
Lowe will compete Saturday knowing it likely will be her last time jumping on her sport’s biggest stage. But she doesn’t want to say it might be her last Olympics. The Summer Games always have felt woven into every big part of her life.
“Maybe I can train one of my daughters to become an Olympian, or maybe my son might become an Olympian,” she said. “So I’m really excited about that.”